Virus Reference Department, Health Protection Agency, London, UK Division of Infection and Immunity, University College London, London, UK Southampton University Hospital NHS Trust, Hampshire, UK Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA Department of Clinical Microbiology & Virology, UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK.
Summary. During viral assembly, viral proteins are released into plasma and can be used to infer viral load. The Architect hepatitis C virus (HCV) core antigen (Ag) assay is a potential alternative to HCV RNA quantification for measuring response to therapy and predicting an end of treatment viral response (EOTR). The HCVp22Ag assay was used to infer viral load in 68 window RNA-containing samples and in 284 samples from baseline to week 14 of ribavirin/interferon treatment in 23 patients with EOTR including three who relapsed, 20 not achieving EOTR and 11 controls. HCV Ag and RNA correlated well (r = 0.86) with linear dose responses on dilution. In patients on therapy and control patients, plasma HCV antigen was detected in 51 of 54 with an interpolated LOD cut off between 10(3) and 10(4) RNA IU/mL. Plasma HCV antigenaemia and plasma RNA levels were significantly different in EOTR from non-EOTR patients at 3 days after treatment start and all times thereafter. Positive and negative EOTR predictive values for HCV RNA >2 log drop and HCV Ag loss at 12 weeks were 70% and 74%, 85% and 93% respectively. HCV Ag reactivity has a linear dose response independent of genotype and correlates well with HCV RNA. The failure to clear HCV Ag is as accurate as the failure to clear HCV RNA at twelve weeks into therapy in predicting the likelihood of failure to achieve EOTR. HCV Ag potentially offers a convenient alternative to RNA measurement for defining a futility flag in HCV therapy.